Gadgets on meeting table


How to stay relevant in a digital world: Part one

Insights to action

It’s the age of the digital transformation. Companies are transforming their processes, delivery models, and overall approaches to business in an effort to adapt to constant change. Technology capabilities are integral to every organization’s success—agnostic of region, industry, or size.

How to build flexibility and adaptability

By: Emily Carr, Margot Dileno, and Elise Vu

According to an independent Deloitte study in collaboration with MIT-Sloan, 87 percent of surveyed business leaders believe that technology will disrupt their industry. This statistic shows that organizations at large are aware they need to equip themselves with the technological skills to advance but leaves room to contemplate the readiness of individuals.

The Deloitte and MIT-Sloan study also found that 91 percent of responding companies do not believe their talent can compete in the digital workplace. So how do you prove the cynics wrong and make yourself a valuable part of the 21st-century workforce? In the first part of this series, “How to stay relevant in a digital world,” we will outline how you can build flexibility and adaptability in order to get and stay ahead as you move along on your own digital transformation journey.

"Digital fit” should be first defined as “mind fit,” and then following with "attitude fit" and "behavior fit.”

– Pearl Zhu, Leadership Master: Five Digital Trends to Leap Leadership Maturity

Embrace ambiguity

Start embracing ambiguity by anticipating change and challenging your typical point of view. Change is never easy, but getting outside of your comfort zone can bring a new perspective to your work and provide more flexibility when you are faced with a challenge or unfamiliar situation. Consider some current industries that have drastically shifted by incorporating unique points of view to solve a traditional problem: the transportation industry (i.e., ridesharing services such as Uber), the hospitality industry (i.e., Airbnb), and the retail industry (i.e., Amazon). Approaching a problem differently can transform an entire industry.

Getting started:

  • Switch it up. Routine can stifle creativity and hinder your ability to alter your thinking process. Trying a new route to work, listening to a new podcast, approaching problems at different times of the day, and participating in conversations you normally wouldn’t take part in are all small tweaks that can make a big impact.
  • Be open to differing opinions. If you’re typically a reactive person, work on becoming proactive and anticipating responses or ideas that may not align with your thinking. Put yourself in others’ shoes to understand their experiences (both personal and professional), build empathy, and enable a more open mind. Practice this through brainstorming sessions with colleagues who offer diversity of thought through different experiences and backgrounds.
  • Don’t get caught up in the uncertainty of the future; make changes day by day. This will help you incrementally manage ambiguity and unknowns as your environment continues to change. Technology is moving at a faster rate than we are able to keep up with, so focus on how you can improve yourself and your skills on a daily basis.

Question mark

Reconsider your structured career path

Traditional workplace roles are changing. Not only are there new dynamic skill requirements, but opportunities and the work itself are shifting. People must be flexible and adaptable in order to be prepared for the future workforce; a study by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborn found that 47 percent of 702 examined occupations in America had a high risk of potential automation. This means that a lot of what you currently do will likely change, and you should be open to a different professional journey than you may have originally envisioned. To thrive in this new world, technology should become an ally to complement career growth and not an adversary.

Getting started:

  • Conduct a personal skills assessment by making a list of your current skills, technical and non-technical, and identify any gaps or areas for improvement that you should work on. Additionally, identifying emerging industry skill sets and technologies in your area of expertise can reveal new opportunities for growth.
  • Find a mentor with a dynamic career path. Connecting with someone who has found success in an unexpected way can lessen the fear that comes with the uncertainty of the future.
  • Brainstorm and document ways in which your job or day-to-day responsibilities may be disrupted by technology. Begin exploring how you can disrupt your own work to deliver better, faster, and more effectively.

Never stop learning

Never stop learning about new technology solutions and ideas around you. Countless resources today can help you stay current on new technologies, industry trends, and general technical fluency. The concept of “fail fast, learn faster” has never been more prevalent.

For example, agile principles, which have traditionally been applied to software implementations, have widely influenced working styles because they encourage continuous improvement and iterating from lessons learned. Mistakes will still be made along the way, but taking those experiences and turning them into knowledge can be the difference between those who will fall behind and those who will succeed. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have, the more you are equipped to take on the digital world.

Getting started:

  • Identify relevant technical and non-technical trainings sponsored by your employer, courses offered at local colleges and universities, or online resources such as, Coursera, online academies, or tutorials. The internet has plenty of free resources to advance your skillsets.
  • Reach out to tech-savvy individuals in your network (e.g., colleagues, peers, and friends) and beyond (e.g., LinkedIn, Twitter) to gather resources and ideas. The people around you can be the best resources for passing on institutional knowledge and first-hand experience building technical fluency.
  • Create a learning plan. Set short-term and long-term goals to build your technical expertise and detail quantifiable and realistic outcomes for each goal. One example of this is setting a goal to read a certain number of articles each week on a selected topic and then adding relevant training or online courses into your plan as appropriate.
Split image of books and digital connected dots

Taking a flexible and adaptable approach

Taking a flexible and adaptable approach to your digital transformation by embracing ambiguity, considering various career paths, and continuously learning can prepare you for the change ahead and enable you to adapt and embrace that change. As individuals, we need to constantly evolve, not only to meet the demands of our employers, but also our own personal career goals. In the next part of this series, we will highlight practitioners who have successfully applied these recommendations and continue to build the skills needed for the future of work.

Devices around a meeting table

Have you tried any of these? What are your tips for staying relevant in the digital world? Stay tuned for more thoughts on this topic as we continue our series on the journey to your personal digital transformation.

Learn more about 'Insights to action'

Insights to action is a community for sharing proven ideas during a time when government agencies are almost universally experiencing disruptive change. It shares insights from trusted leaders with extensive experience and diverse perspectives on leadership, strategy, business operations, innovation, and emerging capabilities.

Insights to action helps leaders and managers look again at the challenges and opportunities that come along with the evolution in government.

Discover more perspectives and research

Insights to action home
Did you find this useful?